ARAGON: Aragon keeping an eye on the neighbours as Catalans seek indy

The National:

The people of the Aragon region in Spain are constantly keeping an eye on their nearest neighbours in Catalonia as that region prepares for its independence referendum that has been called for October 1, if it happens at all.

Most people with any knowledge of European politics are aware that Catalonia has a strong independence movement, but how many know that the ancient kingdom of Aragon, which is now an autonomous region of Spain, also has its own independence movement? Their national day is April 23, feast day of their patron, Saint George – the same as England.

Scotland and Aragon have one historic thing in common – both kingdoms survived independently until 1707, when the parcel of rogues voted Scotland into the Union while in that year Philip V, the first Bourbon king of Spain, invaded Aragon and enforced Castilian language and laws.

It is a matter of pride to some of the Aragonese people that their own language has survived, albeit that only around 10,000 of the 1.4 million population – more than half of whom live in the capital Zaragoza – can speak it, and do so mostly in remote communities.

Catalan is spoken by many people in the east of the region, but the vast majority speak Castilian Spanish as their first language.

The Aragonese are proud of the fact that they are recognised as a “nationality” within Spain’s regional autonomy constitution introduced in 1982, yet there is nowhere near the demand for independence that there is in neighbouring Catalonia.

Instead there are constant demands for greater autonomy for a region which could quite easily be self-sufficient, not least because of the agricultural strength of the valley of the River Ebro.

The problem for those who would like Aragon to be an independent nation is that the political parties who promote Aragon as a nationality are split across the left, centre and right spectrum.

One of the leading leftist political parties is the Chunta Aragonesista (CHA), led by lawyer Jose Luis Soro, who is a minister in the coalition that runs the regional government.

Soro and his party stand for secularisation of Aragonese culture and politics, and are very much on the left wing. They also have relatively few elected representatives apart from mayors and councillors in the small municipalities which provide the CHA’s main strength, and none at all in the Madrid Cortes, the Spanish parliament.

There is an issue which could unite the various separatist parties, and that is the banning of questions and speeches in Aragon and Catalan languages in the regional parliament. It might seem a trivial matter, but it has angered politicians and people alike.

The contentious issue, as described by the “defend the languages” website, cites the unsuccessful amendment: “Use of own languages. The Cortes de Aragon recognises the right of any person to address and be attended in any of the languages ​​of Aragon, without prejudice to what establishes the current legislation on languages.

“Whoever wishes to do so may be directed by any means to the Cortes de Aragon in any of the languages ​​of Aragon. The deputies, members of the government or any person that intervenes in the official sessions of the organs of the Cortes de Aragon will be able to do so in any of the own languages ​​of Aragon.

“The Cortes de Aragon will equip the necessary means for the translation and interpretation in order to guarantee this right.”

That amendment was defeated, after the Aragon Cortes had argued about the matter for over two years.

Could it be that the imposition of Castilian Spanish on the parliament of Aragon will spark a demand for independence? Imagine the Scottish Parliament being told by Westminster to stop using Gaelic and you can see the possibilities.

Meanwhile, everyone in Spain waits to see what will or will not happen in Aragon’s neighbouring region on October 1.


GALICIA: Language issue could well be a significant starting point in triggering change for Galicia

The National:

A few years ago, DNA tests suggested that the earliest inhabitants of Scotland could have included people who had made their way to these islands from Galicia in Spain.

Situated at the north-west of the Iberian peninsula, Galicia is now an autonomous region of Spain, having been a kingdom in its own right over many centuries of its history.

Its main cities include Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra and Vigo, the second largest fishing port in the world in terms of fish landed.

The Galicians have their own language which is spoken as a first language by more than half the 2.8 million people who live there, while 43 per cent claim Castilian Spanish as their first language – most people speak or understand both.

Galicia was going to have its own autonomous government as long ago as 1936, but Franco intervened and it was not until after the death of the dictator in 1975 and Spain’s resumption as a democratic constitutional monarchy that Galicia did indeed become autonomous in 1981.

Even back then, autonomy was not enough for many Galicians, and there are now two main splits in the Galician national movement – those who want outright independence and those who want Spain to become a federal state with Galicia leading the way in self-determination for the various peoples of Spain.

Remarkably, the several political parties in Galicia who are separatist and leftist have combined into one movement, the Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG). That is remarkable because the left in many countries is usually too busy faction fighting to achieve anything.

The BNG has achieved some success, but it is only one of about 30 parties, organisations and unions who could be described as separatist.

Like every other region of Spain, the people of Galicia are awaiting the outcome of the referendum scheduled for Catalonia on October 1, though of course the Spanish Government is still fighting it through the court system.

Therein lies a problem for the Galician independence movement, for a staunch opponent of Catalonia’s referendum is Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who was born in Santiago de Compostela in 1955 and is a graduate of the city’s university. That is the same Rajoy who stated that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for membership of the European Union.

He has been quiet on that matter since Brexit was triggered, but his opposition to Catalonian and Galician independence is a matter of record and thus he is likely to continue his stance against any country breaking from a bigger union.

The BNG and the Alternativa Galega Esquerda (Galician Left Alternative or AGE), the other left-wing party campaigning for self-determination, are both led by women, Ana Ponton and Lidia Senra MEP.

Senra in particular has had a high profile and in June she showed her determination to preserve Galician culture and language by addressing the European Parliament in her native Galician language, and it is that language and attempts to downgrade it which have become a real focus point for the Galician nationalists – like Aragon, the people’s defence of their language and culture may yet trigger a greater demand for independence.

Senra pointed out that the European Parliament continues to disallow MEPs of nations without a state the right to use their minority languages, since interpreting services are not allowed.

She accused Rajoy’s government of “violation of our linguistic rights by those who have the obligation to protect it” and demanded “the means to guarantee the full normalisation of Galician and its use in all areas” before calling on the European Parliament and its president Antonio Tajani to guarantee the full recognition of Galician language rights.

It was a rallying cry that struck a chord with many Galicians and may yet be seen as the starting point of something more significant for the region.


THE CANARIES: Tourist haven the Canary Islands prove a hotbed for peaceful activism

The National:

Scots tourists long ago fell in love with the Canary Islands where the sun really does shine most of the year round.

From the rugged splendour of the interiors of Tenerife and Lanzarote to the relative sophistication of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Islas Canarias have a variety of places holidaymakers can enjoy.

There are also a variety of political opinions on the islands, the southernmost autonomous region of Spain that is just 70 miles from Africa, though almost all Canarians have a strong feeling of their distinct identity as a recognised nationality of Spain.

Home to more than 2.1 million people, the Canaries has seen armed insurrections in the past, and nationalist campaigners also suffered under the dictatorship of Il Caudillo, Francisco Franco. Even after Franco died in 1975, Antonio Cubillo, credited as the founder of the modern Canaries’ independence movement, was tracked to Algiers and stabbed in the spine by hitmen hired by the Spanish secret service.

That followed Cubillo’s armed resistance movement crumbling in 1977 after it was blamed for the bomb that caused two jumbo jets to divert to the small Los Rodeos airport where they crashed, killing 583 people, still the world’s worst air accident – 9/11 was no accident.

The nationalist campaign for self-determination for the Canaries is very much a peaceful activity. As is common in many such movements, the Canaries are home to several nationalist parties operating across the political spectrum from left to right.

Nueva Canarias (New Canaries or NC) has been the most successful progressive nationalist party of late, and NC is now accorded Observer status by the European Free Alliance.

Its leader is Roman Rodriguez, a former president of the Canaries government who split from the rightist Canarian Coalition that wants greater autonomy but not independence, and which has run the Canaries, usually in a minority government, since 1993.

Like everyone else in Spain, the Canarian nationalists are awaiting developments in far away Catalonia.

The Spanish Government knows only too well that they may want to follow Catalonia’s lead, and while no one is suggesting that the independence movement on the islands is anywhere near as strong as that of Catalonia, it only takes one domino to topple and the rest may fall.

That is why everyone in Spain is awaiting October 1 – should it go ahead – even on islands at the opposite end of Spain from Catalonia.